UK Men's Basketball

UK overrated? Underrated? NCAA alters its selection and seeding process

The NCAA has dropped the RPI and adopted a new metric, referred to as NET, to measure the validity of college basketball teams for postseason play.
The NCAA has dropped the RPI and adopted a new metric, referred to as NET, to measure the validity of college basketball teams for postseason play. AP

If you don’t know what to make of the recent announcement about how the process of evaluating, selecting and seeding teams for the NCAA basketball tournament will change, you’re not alone.

Jerry Palm, who crunches college basketball numbers for CBS Sports, is fuzzy about the change from Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) to NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET).

“They’ve told us in some undefined way, mostly undefined, what’s going into it,” he said. ”They haven’t given us the formula. So we don’t know.”

Ken Pomeroy, whose deep dives into numbers makes him synonymous with basketball analytics, also offered a cautious reaction. “It is tough to say much about it since we don’t know how the system performed in the past,” he said.

Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, said the move from RPI to NET next season is more of an overdue update than a tear-it-up-and-start-over change. The NCAA began using the RPI to evaluate teams in 1981. Since then, “there’s been an awful lot of advancement in statistics and analytics and technology,” he said.

The RPI was based a team’s won-loss record, the won-loss records of its opponents, and the won-loss records of the teams the opponents played.

In devising the NET, the NCAA consulted with an entity known as Google Cloud Professional Services. Gavitt touted the NET as providing a more detailed look at teams. In addition to the won-loss records, it will also factor in margin of victory and offensive/defensive efficiencies. The NCAA will cap the margin of victory factor at 10 points in hopes of avoiding the perception that it encourages teams to pour it on hopelessly outclassed opponents.

The NET can be considered the result of a lobbying effort by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Two years ago, an NABC ad hoc committee proposed a more modern metric.

The NCAA tested the NET’s accuracy against results from postseason play on neutral courts the last 15 years. Gavitt said the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee (aka the Selection Committee) decided not to release the results of this testing.

“The reason being we want this to be considered a forward-thinking analytic,” Gavitt said. “By going back and looking at past results, all the dialog would have been about where a team would have been ranked plus or minus.”

This adds to the uncertainty surrounding the change from the RPI to the NET. “It does seem like it will be a little more sophisticated in how it values wins and losses and strength of schedule,” Pomeroy said. “But until we see some results, we don’t really know.”

The change revives a debate about the importance of objective numbers versus subjective opinion.

Eric Wieberg, a spokesman for the NABC, said that coaches prefer more objectivity and less subjectivity be involved in the process while acknowledging both serve a purpose. One of the ad hoc committee’s recommendations was to strike the term “eye test” from the process, Wieberg said in an email.

With coaches notorious for seeking any possible advantage, it’s easy to see them favoring whatever suits their teams best, be it objective numbers or subjective opinion.

“I think you’re right about that,” Gavitt said with a laugh. “Without a doubt. And we hear that. And that’s why the committee is comfortable with a balance between subjectivity and objectivity.”

The RPI was reviled for being too simplistic and antiquated. A change — any change — seemed necessary.

“You know how they use that chicken to pick a Super Bowl winner?” Palm said. “They could have replaced it with that, and people would have been happy that the RPI was gone.”

Gavitt expects the NET will be criticized, too.

“Of course,” he said. “There’s nothing perfect. At least this is more advanced and more contemporary.”

Palm said, “The first time Kentucky shows up at No. 10 on this thing, and everybody down there thinks they’re a national championship team, they’re going to hate it. Because that’s how fans are. I’m not picking on Kentucky fans here.”

Gavitt reminded that UK Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart is a member of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee and John Calipari served on the NABC’s ad hoc committee.

“So, you know,” Gavitt said, “Kentucky fans should feel comfortable that their leadership was very much involved in consideration of all this.”

Quade Green downplayed the meaning of the Kentucky basketball team's blowout victories in the Bahamas. (Photo by Chet White of UK Athletics)

From the heart

Among the many benefits associated with a foreign trip (extra practices, setting a tone, chance to experiment, players and coaches familiarizing themselves with each other under game-like conditions), ex-Cat Jeff Sheppard suggested one that might not immediately come to mind.

“From the media standpoint, you kind of have an all-access pass to us all the time,” he said.

Of course, Sheppard was on the UK team that went to Italy in the summer of 1996. “All the time” is an overstatement. But reporters, players, coaches and fans certainly see each other in a different light.

There was a relatively relaxed atmosphere during UK’s trip to the Bahamas last month. There was no win-or-bust anxiety. No deadline pressure (although the spotty Wi-Fi rattled a few nerves (blush).

When Quade Green returned to the Imperial Ballroom at the midnight hour for extra shooting, no alarm bells sounded as a reporter returned to this Wi-Fi-friendly place to do some late night/early morning writing. Green shot. Reporter typed.

As reporter left, he adopted a fatherly voice and told Green, “Don’t stay out too late.” Green laughed.

When asked four days later why he did the extra shooting after UK’s first game, Green said, “I was glad we won, but I was mad at myself, too. I’d never (shot) 1-for-11 before. That just really hurt my heart.”

Green, who made one of 11 shots in the opening game, seemed to be speaking from the heart. Sheppard might have suggested such candor was more likely on a foreign trip.

For a reporter covering the UK team’s trip to Italy, “you would have gotten more than our standard vanilla answers that we had to give you (in the season),” he said. “You would have really gotten to see us behind the scenes interacting.”

Hustle plays by Ashton Hagans helped set a tone for UK in the Bahamas. Reid Travis explained the source of that spirit. (Photo by Chet White of UK Athletics)

Rupp auction

Inspired by her husband’s 40th birthday, UK fan Tiffany Thacker spent more than $4,000 for items at the Aug. 16 auction of Rupp Arena memorabilia.

Thacker made winning bids for a 4-by-8-foot section of the original court, a horn from the original sound system affectionately known as Big Bertha, cabinets used by longtime equipment manager Bill Keightley and stained glass panels honoring Adolph Rupp and Frank Ramsey.

“We’re huge Kentucky fans,” she said.

While Thacker attended the auction, her husband, Jimmy, stayed at home with their 4-month-old daughter, Paislee Blue-Raine Thacker.

Thacker, a State Farm insurance agent, said she hoped to put the items on display at her office on Lexington’s Pimlico Parkway.

The auction raised more than $37,000, plus created big savings in disposal costs, Lexington Center Corp., president and CEO Bill Owen said.

Congratulations

To former UK quarterback Brian Siddens and his wife, Makenzie. Their daughter, Alexis Lee Siddens, was born on Aug. 24.

Like any new parent, Brian Siddens envisioned how his daughter’s future might unfold. Not coincidental to this imagining is heredity: he is 6-foot-6, and Makenzie is 6-1.

This height gene led Brian to want his daughter’s name sent to UK women’s basketball coach Matthew Mitchell.

“She might be a center for UK in 18 years,” Brian said.

Siddens came to UK as a quarterback in 1996, the same year as Tim Couch. This led to a switch to tight end, then a transfer to Murray State.

He noticed that Makenzie’s due date was Sept. 15, the same day Kentucky will play Murray State.

Alexis Lee was born in, of all places, Knoxville. Siddens’ work took him there.

“We’re kind of a blue piece of mold on an orange,” he said.

Belated Happy birthday

To PJ Washington. He turned 20 on Aug. 23. ... To Kent Hollenbeck. He turned 68 on Aug. 24. ... To Richie Farmer. He turned 49 on Aug. 25. ... To UK Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart. He turned 59 on Aug. 27. ... To Morakinyo “Mike” Williams. He turned 30 on Aug. 29. ... To referee Tony Greene. He turned 69 on Aug. 29. ... To Bob Guyette. He turned 65 on Aug. 29.

Happy birthday

To Lukasz Obrzut. He turned 36 on Friday. ... To Jim Andrews. He turned 67 on Saturday. ... To Steve Masiello. He turns 41 on Sunday (today). ... To former Georgetown Coach John Thompson. He turns 77 on Sunday (today). ... To Julius Mays. He turns 29 on Tuesday. ... To Bo Lanter. He turns 59 on Tuesday. ... To Nazr Mohammed. He turns 41 on Wednesday.

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